Charter school sues Minneapolis district over lease issue

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 2, 2013 - 8:19 PM

The North Side science charter asked a judge to bar the district from forcing it out of the Cityview building and poaching its teachers.

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At Cityview School, students head home for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

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The falling-out over rent between Minneapolis schools and a North Side charter school fostered by the district is now in court.

The Minnesota School of Science sued the district in Hennepin County District Court this week, asking that the district be barred from forcing the school out of the Cityview building it has occupied for two years in the McKinley neighborhood, and from trying to poach the school’s teachers.

The district wants the charter school it authorized in 2011 out of the building because it has paid only 10 percent of the rent the two parties agreed on. But the school argues that it doesn’t owe the remaining $580,000 because the rent was contingent on the school getting charter school lease aid from the state.

The Minnesota Department of Education paid the aid during the charter’s first year but refused the next year, saying that’s the law when a charter school’s authorizer is also its landlord.

The district this spring told the school its was in default on its lease and to negotiate a new lease for Cityview or to leave the building in 60 days. So the lawsuit seeks to bar the district from evicting the school, misrepresenting the school’s performance, trying to lure teachers who signed contracts for next school year, or to block efforts by the school to change authorizers.

“Our goal is to stay where we are,” board member Gene Scapanski said Tuesday. The school has asked that at a minimum it be permitted to remain at Cityview for the final year of the three-year lease. That would permit it to find space for the 2014-2015 school year and make a more orderly transition for families of its 300-plus students. The charter said it has had no luck finding a new facility that’s convenient for its students. About two-thirds of them live in Minneapolis.

The lawsuit poses a potential obstacle for district’s plans to open a semiautonomous district school this fall in the Cityview building, where a previous district school posted poor academic results. The district said it has negotiated an agreement with its teachers union to make that easier, and also has been wooing the charter’s students, in part by recruiting some of its teachers. District spokesman Stan Alleyne said it is moving “full speed ahead” with those plans, but said he was otherwise limited in what he could say about pending litigation.

The lawsuit alleges that the district breached the rental agreement, didn’t deal in good faith, and induced at least five teachers to breach their contracts to teach for the charter next school year.

It also alleges that the district dealt in bad faith by refusing to allow Pillsbury United Communities, which already authorizes a dozen charter schools, to become its new authorizer so the school could gain state lease aid. The district said it didn’t want to pass on to a new authorizer questions over financial matters and testing irregularities; the school said it has cleared those up.

 

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

Twitter: @brandtstrib

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